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The Sanctions Question


Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, via Phil Korsnes:

if Iran is as close to nuclear capability as it is claimed, it should have a strong interest in non-proliferation. Making it difficult for a newcomer to join the nuclear club would enhance the value of its own potential membership and dissuade rivals from taking a similar path. If a major goal of sanctions against Iran is to dissuade other countries from taking the path to nuclear capability that Iran has taken, the possibility to make that case with “Iran as a partner” should be kept in mind…

This doesn’t make much sense to me; we strengthen non-proliferation institutions by not making a fuss about the Iranian nuclear program? Why would anyone ever believe a claim that went like this: “No, seriously; Iran is the LAST country that we’ll tolerate as part of the nuclear club. Nobody else gets in.” Indeed, I suspect that non-proliferation would suffer much more from toleration of and acquiesence in Iran’s nuclear program than in challenge to it, even if Iran manages to get a nuke anyway. There’s some value to both the international opprobrium that comes from violating non-proliferation rules (if Iran violates such rules by moving farther along the road to nukes), and to the added costs created by sanctions against such violation. I happen to think that the NPT has been a wildly successful international institution, and that preserving as much of its essence as possible is a worthy US security goal, and that defending the NPT through tolerating Iranian nukes makes about as much sense as fighting for non-proliferation by browbeating the Japanese into going nuclear.

That said, Salehi-Isfahani’s larger point about the effectiveness of sanctions is well taken. It’s not clear how sanctions lead to either a)regime change, or b)the end of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Although the Iranian opposition has been surprisingly critical of the regime’s foreign policy stance, I’d still be surprised if aggressive sanctions regime didn’t produce a “rally-round-the-flag” effect. At the same time, I think that international disapproval is something that states take into account when they develop policy, and that the clear demonstration of such disapproval is sensible. Iran’s compliance with the IAEA is twitchy at best, although its announcement of the Qom facility and guarantee to allow inspections improves the situation. It’s key to note, however, that countries announce the existence of nuclear facilities and allow inspections of those facilities because they wish to remain in compliance with international law; agreements matter, and sanctions for flouting agreements also matter.

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